Showing posts with label Kathleen Ernst. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kathleen Ernst. Show all posts

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Welcome Guest Author Kathleen Ernst with Danish Apple Cake

Author Kathleen Ernst joins us in the Kitchen today with an intriguing historical recipe and a generous gesture. 

Leave a comment and you are entered to win one of her wonderfully enjoyable Chloe Ellefson mysteries. More details below, but first, please welcome Kathleen!  

~ Cleo

Author Kathleen Ernst
Learn more about
y fascination with ethnic domestic history has shaped my own kitchen traditions.  I write the Chloe Ellefson mysteries, each set at an historic site.  Chloe, a curator, loves discovering stories about everyday women from the past.  (She also discovers dead bodies along the way, but that’s another story.)

The latest book, The Light Keeper’s Legacy, is set on an island off the tip of Wisconsin’s Door County, in Lake Michigan.  Chloe has been hired to help restore an old lighthouse.  While living and working in this isolated spot, she becomes fascinated with the women who once lived on the island.  A few worked in the lighthouse.  Many more settled in a fishing village that briefly flourished in the 1800s.  Chloe soon learns that past crimes are affecting modern murder.

I created a fictional Danish immigrant, Ragna Anderson, as a main character in the historical timeline that twines with Chloe’s.  When I asked food historians and Danish-Americans what dish might be appropriate for Ragna’s kitchen, the answer was almost always the same:  Aeblekage—Danish Apple Cake.

The recipes I’ve collected come from treasured family traditions, old community cookbooks, and more modern ethnic collections.  In most versions the cake is not baked, but served trifle-style.

It’s easy to see how this simple dish evolved.  The earliest versions call for only apples, bread crumbs, a little butter and sugar.  I can imagine rural Danish women saucing windfall apples and crushing stale bits of bread to create a treat for their families.

Those who immigrated brought the tradition with them.  My friend RuthAnn, who shared her grandmother’s recipe, recalled:  “I grew up watching Mother make this, as it was Daddy’s favorite dessert.  I started making it myself when I was about 10 years old.  We had our own apple trees, and we always had a jar of dried breadcrumbs from leftover bread.”  Although the recipe had been in her family for generations, RuthAnn had to write it down for me since it had never before been captured on paper.

In its most basic form, Danish Apple Cake —just applesauce and sweetened crumbs layered in a dish—is a quick and tasty dessert. 

Danish Apple Cake

2 cups of applesauce
2 cups breadcrumbs
¼ c. butter
½ c. brown sugar

Melt the butter and brown sugar in a small skillet over medium heat.  Add the crumbs to that mixture and toast gently, stirring constantly, for several minutes.

In a clear glass dish, layer 1 cup of applesauce, 1 cup of the breadcrumb mixture, 1 cup of applesauce, and 1 cup of the crumbs.

Note:  You can use purchased ingredients or start from scratch.  In Ragna’s honor I chose to make my own sauce and crumbs.

For the applesauce:  

core 4-6 apples (mine were on the small side, so I needed 6 apples to make 2 cups of sauce).  Peeling is optional.  Cut the apples into chunks and place in a saucepan with enough water or fruit juice to cover the bottom.  Simmer over medium heat until fruit is soft and easy to mash with a spoon—about 20 minutes—stirring frequently.  

Add sugar to taste as needed (I don’t add any).  If there is a lot of liquid in the pan, simmer for a few more minutes.

For the bread crumbs:  

layer 8 slices of bread on a cookie sheet and toast in a 200 degree oven until thoroughly dry, about 20 minutes. 

I buzzed mine through a blender to make crumbs.  You can also pulverize with a potato masher or run the bread through a grinder.

You can also embellish the cake as you wish.  Almost all of the recipes I’ve seen call for a layer of whipped cream to cover the top layer of crumbs.  A recipe from 1948 calls for adding half a cup of milk to the crumbs, layering the applesauce and crumb mixture in an angel food pan, and baking “in a moderate oven” until the cake shrinks from the pan.

A recipe handed down in my friend Sally’s family specifies a mixture of graham cracker crumbs and Holland Rusks or Zwieback, and the addition of cinnamon.  Half a pint of whipping cream is beaten with 2 t. powdered sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla extract for the top layer.  Once the whipped cream is spread on the cake, it is decorated with dollops of crabapple or currant jelly.  Other more modern recipes include oats, nuts, or cookie crumbs.

If any Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen readers have their own memories of (or recipes for) Danish Apple Cake, I’d love to hear how they compare!  And if you enjoy food history too, you might enjoy my earlier posts: 


A final note from Kathleen....

I’m grateful to Cleo and friends for allowing me to be a guest here. And I’m grateful to readers! I love my work, and I’d be nowhere without you. Leave a comment, and your name will go into a drawing; the winner may choose any of my Chloe Ellefson mysteries:  Old World Murder, The Heirloom Murders, or The Light Keeper’s Legacy.  For more information see my website,, or my blog, .


To learn more about Kathleen's
Chloe Ellefson Mystery series,
click here.


The Light Keeper’s Legacy is Kathleen Ernst’s twenty-fourth published book.  In addition to the Chloe Ellefson series, she has written many books for American Girl, including the six-book series about the newest historical character, Caroline Abbott.  Several of her mysteries for young readers have been finalists for Edgar or Agatha awards.  

Leave a comment on this post
and you will be entered 
to win
your choice of Kathleen's mysteries!
Contest ends Wednesday evening 9/19 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Swiss Pear Bread—by Kathleen Ernst

Hope you’ll join me in welcoming mystery writer Kathleen Ernst to Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen today. She’s got a new release…and a delicious recipe for Swiss Pear Bread to share with us today! Be sure to comment for her contest today, too! ~Riley

The Swiss Connection

TheHeirloomMurders-ColorCoverWebChloe Ellefson, the protagonist in my Historic Sites mystery series, has a definite Swiss connection. She worked at an outdoor museum in Switzerland for five years. In The Heirloom Murders her Swiss ex reappears, and the plot takes Chloe into a Swiss-American community in southern Wisconsin.

My father’s parents were born and raised in Switzerland. I was fairly young when they died, and I wish we’d had more time together. Thinking and writing about their homeland, and Swiss-American culture, helps me feel closer to them both.

My grandfather was trained as a pastry chef in Bern, and he continued that trade after immigrating to the US. Since I’m such a foodie myself, it grieves me to not have any of his favorite recipes.

While researching The Heirloom Murders I talked with elderly Swiss-Americans about food traditions. It was hard to choose a single recipe to feature, but I finally settled on Swiss Pear Bread. Dried pears were once a staple in rural Swiss kitchens, and many versions of pear bread made their way to the new world.

Pear Bread is still common in Swiss enclaves such as Green County, WI. This loaf is hearty and moist and absolutely delicious. In my novel, Chloe’s friend Frieda Frietag serves it to guests. It makes me smile to think that perhaps my own ancestors did so as well.

Frieda Frietag’s Swiss Pear Bread

Makes 2 loaves.

½ lb. dried pears, diced (about 1-3/4 c.)
1- ½ lb. other dried fruits, such as dates, prunes, apples, and apricots, also diced
½ c. chopped black walnuts
1 T. anise seed
2 pkg. dry yeast
1 T. melted lard or butter
1 t. sugar
1 T. honey
1 T. salt – (or as desired)
3 c. lukewarm water
9-10 c. flour (I use all wheat, but you could also use white flour, or a blend)

Pear Bread pears

Pear Bread fruitChop dried fruit, place in a pan, cover with water, and simmer until fruit is soft, about fifteen minutes. Drain fruit, reserving the liquid. You can do this the night before, and let the fruit drain overnight.

Add water to the drained fruit water as needed to make 3 c., and bring to lukewarm (about 100 degrees) temperature. Dissolve yeast and 1 t. sugar in the liquid. Add honey, anise seed, lard or butter, and salt.

Pear Bread mixerAdd about 3 c. flour and beat until smooth with an electric mixer. Add the dried fruit and walnuts. Continue adding flour gradually until the dough is of kneading consistency—soft, but dry enough to handle. Knead until dough is light and elastic, using your hands or a dough hook with a large, heavy-duty electric mixer. (This is the maximum quantity my mixer can handle, but it does work.)Pear Bread dough rising

Pear Bread doughPear Bread dough1Cover the dough with a damp towel and let dough rest for 15 minutes.

Knead dough again for about 10 minutes. Put dough in a large, greased bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place for about two hours. (I put the bowl beneath the light over my stove.)

Punch dough down with your fist several times. Cover and let rise again for about an hour.Pear Bread pans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Divide dough in half, shape into loaves, and place each into a well-greased bread pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour, or until a straw inserted into loaves comes out dry. Remove from pans and cool on racks.

Keep bread in refrigerator. These loaves also freeze well.Pear Bread2Ernst06 Gerold

I’m grateful to Riley for allowing me to celebrate publication of The Heirloom Murders: A Chloe Ellefson Mystery by guest-posting here. And I’m grateful to readers! I love my work, and I’d be nowhere without you. Leave a comment, and your name will go into a drawing for a free book. The winner can choose any of my seventeen titles. The Heirloom Murders, one of my American Girl mysteries, a Civil War novel—the choice will be yours! To learn more, please visit my website,